For as long as I can remember, I've been a bit preoccupied with the concept of age. I've always wanted to be grown, but never old. Making sure I'm "on trend" in terms of age and kind of life that goes along with it.
As time would have it, I realized that "old" is relative, and the closer you come to the age, it's not so old anymore. And every age below yours suddenly seems wildly young. I considered turning 30 to be THE milestone of my life, but even then, and years after, I felt I hadn't accomplished enough, and I was still making plenty of childish mistakes.
Recently, InStyle published two stories discussing age and its complexities. "The Mid-30s Awkward Phase No One Tells You About" (if you're slightly older than 35, the writer says you're in the number, too) and "Turning 40 is Hard. Turning 40 As a Black Women is Harder." I'm a mashup of these stories: a Black woman who's 37, a couple of years past 35, but not quite 40. I shared the articles with my circle, and we messaged back co-signs through emojis and gifs.
Quotes from both articles jumped out at me immediately. From "Turning 40 As a Black Woman is Harder":
"Turning 40 can be emotionally fraught for any woman — often triggering anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy. Our culture tells us that by 40, we should be homeowners, happily married with kids, succeeding in our careers and saving for retirement. When we're missing any part of that equation, a sense of failure can creep in. That's all legitimately stressful, but focusing on it obscures the unique struggles faced by Black women approaching the milestone, particularly when it comes to career development and earning potential."
And from "The Mid-30s Awkward Phase No One Tells You About":
"You are never more aware of how special and unique you aren't, then at 35 when you're just paddling along and doing things and not breaking any records for being old nor young while doing them. Yet you're racing against the clock to get, as Glynnis MacNicol surmised, a clear sense of what you've got and what you'll do with it, so you have precisely zero time for anyone else's drama. You are more on your bullshit than possibly any other time."
I can relate more than I'd like to, and maybe you can, too, but there are more layers. How did we start glorifying these milestone ages and holding ourselves to whatever life events, epiphanies, and accomplishments that have been assigned to them?
The "awkwardness" of being in the middle of ages suggests that there's still some growing to do before you reach the golden age of completion. Saying turning 40 as a Black woman is harder than any other race suggests it's hard to turn 40 as any other woman, period (I believe this premise, by the way, as data supports it). But why is it hard? The difficult part isn't making it through another 365 days, but not living up to societal expectations, and sometimes our own.
When you hit those milestone ages or any age, it's a time for celebration, thankfulness, and reflection. What we do instead is replace or follow that up with "I'm X age, but what do I have to show for it?" This framing is unproductive and can be self-defeating.
While I love stories like the aforementioned and seeing myself in them, I can't wait to get to a time when we don't have to write and read them. When professional and personal endeavors and thought processes don't have a very specific number, or age, attached to them.
What we don't talk enough about is that no singular age is the end all be all. We should be learning, growing, checking boxes off throughout our entire lives. Not just to appease the appearance of a milestone.
Featured image by Getty Images